How much is a customer referral worth to you?

Likely a lot, right? A referral means someone you previously worked with loved you and your business so much they wanted someone they know to benefit from everything you offer.

Now, how much is a search engine ranking worth? More than a Yelp review? Less than a Facebook ad?

Is it any different from a customer referral?

85 percent of small businesses attract customers through word of mouth, according to a 2014 survey of Philadelphia small businesses conducted by Verizon in conjunction with Small Business Trends.

Similarly, 59 percent of those surveyed said customers find them most often via search engines.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is complex and constantly evolving. But all too often we get hung up on trying to game the search engines with a few code hacks.

The reality is search engines exist to serve people. Your website should do the same.

Treat SEO like a client referral

Stop thinking of SEO as a way to manipulate search engines. Just like your customers, search engines are smart. Treat them as such.

Search engines crawl your web pages to find out how valuable your content is. Then, they rank that page according to how it compares against others.

That ranking is like a referral. You have to earn it, and you also have to treasure it.

Like any other product or service, you have to constantly prove you’re different and better than the other guy.

People are eager to share content that is helpful, relevant, and interesting. They’re also initially skeptical and quick to move on if something is dull and generally useless.

The same is true for search engines.

But how do you know what content people find helpful, relevant, and interesting? Pay attention to your customers and the questions they’re asking.

SEO is not a bunch of code tricks

No amount of technical SEO can save your site if your content is crap. SEO has less to do with how your website’s coded and more to do with your message in addition to the clout your have online.

If you want a top-5 ranking, you have to be willing to roll up your sleeves and put in the work. It begins with writing.

As HubSpot Product Editor-in-Chief Beth Dunn has said, “Words are the currency of the web.”

Words, not flashy websites, are what gets people to order, click, subscribe, buy, or contact you. The value of your site directly correlates to the value of the content you produce, as we’ve said before. And poorly written content holds your website back from reaching its potential.

Forget what you’ve heard about keywords, and stay away from anyone who promises you a first-page ranking.

A lot of the techniques used in the past are either irrelevant now or considered bad practice and could cripple your site.

SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. But the good news is that creating quality content doesn’t have to feel like you’re running at all.

Ready to tame the content beast? We can help!

Content is one of our favorite subjects. Take a look at what else we’re written:

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